Matt Campbell finds out if the latest tweaks to the Outlander have been for the better.
The Mitsubishi Outlander recently received an update that the brand says will make the family-focused SUV more competitive, attractive and better to drive.
The latest changes to the Outlander range - designated the MY14.5 update - arrive only six months after a line-up shake-up, and just 16 months after the all-new medium SUV went on sale in Australia in late 2012.
The modifications Mitsubishi has made to the car are significant. The car’s suspension dampers and shock absorbers have been changed for improved body-roll control and cornering stability, while it has also revised the CVT automatic transmission offered on petrol models, and claims it has improved noise, vibration and harshness levels of its 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol variants with more sound-deadening.
Styling changes include a new grille, revised bumper design, underbody bash plates finished in silver at the front and rear of the car, black wheel arch extensions, silver roof rails and 18-inch alloy wheels for all models. The Outlander Aspire has a different 18-inch wheel design and sees the addition of LED tail-lights, but the plasticky garnish across the boot-lid remains. A new red metallic hue (pictured) also joins the colour palette.
Our car was the top-end Aspire 4WD diesel model, which is priced at $46,890 plus on-road costs. It’s powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel producing 110kW of power at 3500rpm and 360Nm of torque between 1500-2750rpm, with power sent to all four wheels via a switchable all-wheel-drive system and a standard six-speed automatic transmission.
There are no changes to the mechanicals, and as such the diesel Outlander still returns a respectable claimed fuel consumption of 6.2 litres per 100km. During our time in the car, we saw 7.0L during mainly urban commuting.
The engine remains a fair performer – it’s not as lively or powerful as diesel units seen in competitor cars like the Mazda CX-5, but nor is it sluggish. There is some low-rev turbo lag that can be frustrating in urban driving but once the engine gets above 1500rpm it pulls quite strongly, and saunters nicely during highway driving.
The diesel isn’t what you’d call muted, but there’s less audible rumble in the cabin than we recall, particularly at idle. However, its vibrations at idle can still be felt by passengers.
The six-speed automatic makes decisions quickly and intuitively, working well to keep the engine revving in its best torque range. There was no evident poor shift selection, and the changes were generally smooth despite an eagerness to drop down a gear under slightly harder throttle.
Our test highlighted that Mitsubishi’s efforts to improve the car’s road manners have not been in vain.
The suspension damper revisions make for a more composed and comfortable ride than the car it replaces. It seems to exhibit less body roll through corners, but while the ride is improved, the front suspension can still clunk hard over sharper-edged bumps.
The Aspire has a switchable all-wheel-drive system that offers peace of mind if the surface is slippery thanks to improved traction. The majority of buyers won’t need it, though, and the front-drive mode works reasonably well despite some minor torque-steer under hard throttle. The steering is slow to react, though, which means it takes a bit more effort than some SUVs when it comes to parking.
Inside, the Outlander has taken a small step up, too.
The Aspire model has always been the pick of the interiors for the Outlander, with leather seats and more standard gear than other models in the line-up.
The MY14.5 Aspire gains a new carbon-look grey trim finish that runs from the doors across the dashboard, while the car’s clear, simple media screen – which in Aspire trim includes satellite navigation – is retained front and centre. The colour driver information screen is a good reference point for trip information and efficiency, but lacks a digital speedometer – although that’s not as big a problem in the Outlander as its analogue dials are easy to read at a glance.
Convenience is well taken care of. There’s an electronic tailgate system which is handy, while the driver gets auto headlights, auto wipers, smart key with push-button start and a six-way electric adjustable seat. The front passenger misses out on electric seat adjustment, which is off the pace for an SUV of this price, though both front chairs do have heating.
All Aspire models come with seven seats as standard and the rearmost chairs offer enough space for kids and smaller adults, with cup holders positioned above the wheel arches and a handy under-floor stowage spot for the cargo blind. There’s also a space-saver spare tyre under there.
The second row is roomy enough for three adults, though the transmission tunnel does eat into middle-space foot-room. There are three child seat anchor points across the second row, with ISOFIX anchor points for the outboard seats. Dual-zone climate control is good, but there are no rear vents whatsoever – bad news if you intend to take youngsters with you.
With the third row stowed, the boot is copious. Mitsubishi says there is 477 litres of space with five seats up, which drops to a less useful 128L with all seven in place. Folding all rear seats flat using the clever flip-up second-row seat bases, the Outlander boasts a flat 1608L space, though its boot-lip is quite high. It does come with an electronic opening and closing function, though.
Safety is a highlight for the Aspire model. A 2013 model year revision saw Mitsubishi make some high-tech active safety goodies standard for the top-end model, including a forward collision mitigation system that can stop nose-to-tail accidents at up to 30km/h, and a radar-based cruise control system. All Outlanders get a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors, though none come with front sensors.
The Outlander comes with a strong five-year/130,000 kilometre warranty and a four-year capped price servicing program which requires maintenance visits every 12 months or 15,000km, and is priced at an average of $434 per year.
So the revised Outlander is an improvement, one that help keep it in contention in the tough-fought SUV sales race. It’s not as polished as the best SUVs in the business such as the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V, but the fact it has the added advantage of seven seats rather than five could be enough to get it over the line for plenty of family buyers.
The question for buyers hell-bent on an Outlander, though, is whether the diesel is a better buy than the new Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid petrol version. It lacks seven seats, but for buyers who spend most of their time in the urban jungle, its very low plug-in running costs and extensive equipment list may make it a better option.